Greetings, proletarians of all nations! Frost here to tell you about one of the latest Flames of War supplements for Late War: Red Bear.
Red Bear is a beastly compendium of several late war books, but with a good deal of new content, vastly broadened options and potential for different lists, as well as some rewritten rules. As we have all come to expect with Flames of War hardbacks, the book is sturdily bound, with full-color front to back; and packed with excellent historical background, detailed maps, campaign timelines and helpful guides for painting all of the forces found within the book.
Within Red Bear you will find lists for Soviet, Polish and Romanian late war armies:
The Soviets get a few significant rule changes. The biggest is the new “Hen and Chicks” rule. Now you can move your full distance and fire with those T-34s, with the trade-off of a +1 to hit penalty. This gives Soviet tank battalions considerably more mobility while still remaining a threat at range. A few of the heroes have been updated, as well. For those who loved infiltrating their sappers, but didn’t like the premium for a Spetsnaz Platoon, now you can bring the new-and-improved Ivan Zabolotniy, who can infiltrate an entire company of sappers single-handed.
In addition to these changes, the Soviets now have a staggering array of lists to field:
a. Six different armored battalions to choose from, ranging from light tanks and self-propelled artillery to beastly IS-2s. If these lists don’t satisfy your need for massed waves of tanks, nothing in FoW will.
b. Four mechanized options, including motorized rifle battalions, forward detachments, reconnaissance companies and the antiquated, yet surprisingly deadly Cossack Regiment.
c. Seven infantry lists, ranging from standard rifle battalions to penal battalions, as well as the feared engineer-sapper battalions. Whether you want to throw a wall of steel downrange or torch all of Europe with flamethrowers, these guys have you covered.
Overall, as a compendium of late war Soviet lists, Red Bear gives players a staggering array of new options and interactivity. Want some IS-85s for your Engineer-Sappers? You can do that now. A few of the point costs are different now, however, so don’t get too carried away writing up lists until you get your hands on Red Bear for yourself.
The Poles have only one force, but it is perhaps one of the coolest I have seen in FoW: The Home Army Battalion. Poorly trained, yet absolutely fearless Polish troops armed with stolen German armor and weapons fighting in a desperate last stand against impossible odds. This list just goes to show how great Battlefront is at integrating diverse and unusual army lists into the game.
Now for a bit of constructive criticism. There are only two problems I have with the book, and they are entirely format-related. These aren’t problems specific to Red Bear, but something that has gone on with Flames of War Soviets for some time. I think is finally worth addressing. The first, and a relatively minor one, is the overuse of the Cyrillic clichés. I don’t simply mean the classic “Я” in place of “R” which, while certainly not original, does add a necessary bit of flavor. What I am referring to is the completely overboard use of Cyrillic to replace roman letters in ways that give you a headache when you read them, especially if, like myself, you happen to read both English and Russian. For you armchair linguists out there, “Я” is pronounced “ya” and the Russian letter for “R” is “P”, so you can imagine how disorienting it can be when someone forces the two alphabets together. I’m not saying to stop doing it, but it needs to be toned down a bit.
The other problem I have is the book’s complete butchering of Russian. Sometimes they get it right, but scarcely a page goes by where I don’t wince at a blatantly incorrect rendering of Russian, complete with ham-fisted transliteration and mixed genders. Seriously, on a relative scale it is even worse than the knives imported from China that say “keep out of children”. The part that bothers me most is that one Russian speaker could fix most of the mistakes in an afternoon. With the excellent treatment that Germans and many other countries get in their books, I think it is about time for Battlefront to get this one right. FoW is a historical game, and historians love details (hence this little diatribe). Even if Battlefront doesn’t want to invest in an expert (and I don’t blame them for not wanting to), all they really need to do is find a few bilingual hobbyists in the community (hint: I’m available) and get some feedback. With all their other strengths, if Battlefront makes a real effort to give the Soviets a proper treatment, then the professionalism of their printed products will be hard to match.
Overall, from a historical perspective, this book gets an A. While it has a bit of the flavored embellishment of FoW infused into it, the historical background and the varied maps and pictures that illustrate it are excellent.